Soccer hosts West Virginia in Big 12 home opener

Sophomore midfielder Giuliana Cunningham juggles the ball down the field in a match against Gonzaga on Sept. 22 at Betty Lou Mays. Cunningham scored the winning goal in overtime against Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan. last Thursday. Cole Tompkins | Multimedia Editor

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

Baylor soccer will host West Virginia for its first home conference match of the season tonight at Betty Lou Mays Field. The Bears return to Waco after a 1-1 week in the Sunflower State that saw a 1-0 overtime win against Kansas State and a 4-1 loss to then-No.17 Kansas (now No. 21).

The win over the Wildcats marked Baylor’s first Big 12 opening win since the 2015 season. The Bears have now played six overtime matches this season and are now 3-0-3 in overtime matches. Eleven of Baylor’s 15 goals this year have come in either the second half or overtime with Thursday night’s golden shot coming off the foot of sophomore midfielder Giuliana Cunningham.

The sophomore said that scoring the goal sparked confidence for the team.

“We need confidence. It seems like we’re in a little bit of a scoring drought, but any way, any goal by any one gives the team confidence to just keep moving forward,” Cunningham said.

Even though Baylor dropped last Sunday’s match to the Jayhawks, the Bears were in charge of the first half, outshooting Kansas 10-1 before halftime, 15-10 overall. Head coach Paul Jobson said that Kansas was able to capitalize on more opportunities than the Bears, but that he felt Baylor could have won that match.

“I think we pulled a lot of great things out of this weekend. It’s tough to win on the road. We were able to do it once and honestly in my career I don’t think I’ve ever walked away from a 4-1 loss thinking we could have won that game,” Jobson said. “I mean it was just a crazy game. But you know a game where they were just able to put away their opportunities and we weren’t. We learned a lot from that and I think we we’re encouraged and we’re excited to have another opportunity to step on the field Thursday.”

Baylor hosts a West Virginia team that received votes in the United Soccer Coaches Top 25 Poll this week. The Mountaineers are 6-3-1 overall and kicked off conference play with a 2-0 win over Iowa State on Friday.

Having won five Big 12 regular season titles since joining the conference six years ago in 2012, West Virginia is considered a perennial powerhouse. The one year where WVU walked away without the Big 12 crown was when the Bears took the title in 2018. Baylor is 1-6-1 all-time against the Mountaineers, with both its only win and only loss coming last year.

Jobson said that playing West Virginia is always a challenge.

“You know, it’s become a tough match. We’re the one team that took a conference championship away from them and beat them at their place last year,” Jobson said. “We know there’s a chip on their shoulder. They’re a fantastic team. They’re well-coached and Nikki [Izzo-Brown] and her staff just always do a great job. They’ll be ready which just motivates us even more to be ready.”

After last year’s epic matches that saw the Bears take a 1-0 overtime victory in Morgantown, W. Va. and a 3-0 defeat by the Mountaineers in the Big 12 Tournament Championship, Cunningham said both teams will be playing with a chip on their shoulders.

“They’re definitely going to be at it, but we are also out for blood since they beat us during the tournament,” Cunningham said. “So, it’s definitely a fun rivalry I think in a way that we created because the games were always so intense and fun, so I think both teams are going to be going at it.”

Having played a tough preconference schedule, mostly on the road, the Bears will host four of the seven games left in their regular season schedule and won’t be back on the field until Thursday, Oct. 10 in Fort Worth. Jobson said that the team is grateful to have the weekend off.

“You know, as a coach you hope that everybody’s focusing on one game at time but we know that second game of a weekend is always in the back of their minds and our minds,” Jobson said. “Going into this weekend knowing that we just have one match on Thursday and really a week off before the next match, there is that idea of ‘go ahead and empty your tanks, there’s nothing to save it for.’ […] I know that’s on their minds and I know that’s a freeing thing as well, so we are excited about having that opportunity.”

Baylor hosts West Virginia at 7 p.m. today at Betty Lou Mays Field.